Boomers Watched (and Re-Watched) “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

On December 9, 1965, CBS aired the animated holiday special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, for the first time. Based on characters from Peanuts, the comic strip by Charles Schultz, which gained in popularity throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s. This popularity prompted Coca-Cola to sponsor an animated feature. It was the first Peanuts animated feature, and its success foretold additional Peanuts animated features in the coming years.

The comic strip’s distribution exposure meant that TV viewers would be aware of the main characters and their personality traits, so no additional introductions would be necessary. Consequently, it was decided that this would be a half-hour special.

In true 1960s fashion, one of the main plots of the animated feature is Charlie Brown’s dissatisfaction with the commercialization of the holidays. However, the feature embraces the religious sentiment of the holiday with Charlie Brown agreeing to direct the school Christmas play. From the start, Charles Schultz intended there to be a focus on the religious origin of the holiday, and that it would have a jazz score. Neither was common on television at the time, and many wondered if it would be accepted because of that.

The music for the feature was a mix of jazz and traditional Christmas music. Vince Guaraldi was chosen to score the special, and he added two new songs to the mix. All the singing was recorded by children and children’s choirs, and the characters were voiced by children actors. The music was as stripped down as the animation, consisting mainly of just acoustic piano, drums and bass, a fairly common set up for jazz bands.

CBS owned the rights to the special from 1965 to 2000, and aired it each holiday season. ABC acquired the rights and ran it from 2001 to 2019. In 2020, Apple acquired exclusive rights for its streaming service, Apple+, choosing to keep the special off broadcast TV entirely for the first time since 1965. After fielding much criticism from nostalgic consumers, Apple agreed to sponsor an airing on PBS. This year, PBS will air the animated half-hour feature on December 19 at 7:30 pm, sponsored by Apple.

Mister Boomer may be an outlier on this one. He was never a fan of schmaltz and sappiness, in any form. This special falls completely in that category for him. Mister B does not recall the first time he saw A Charlie Brown Christmas, but in subsequent years, he avoided it any chance he could. Raised on the superb animation of Disney films and the contemporary modernism of Chuck Jones’ artwork for cartoons like the Road Runner, the animation in this feature left him unimpressed. Even the bare-bones animation of Rocky and Bullwinkle was light years ahead of this one.

Like many boomers, Mister B found his introduction to jazz from TV. He recalls the jazz songs introduced by a lion puppet character on Soupy Sales, and of course, the adoption of Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five for the Today Show’s theme song in the late 1950s. Such sophisticated beats that were being played on TV in that era ran circles around the insipid soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. One wonders if the producers of A Charlie Brown Christmas couldn’t afford a musician who would add some pizzazz to the project. Can you imagine if Miles Davis or Duke Ellington had been hired for the job?

As Mister Boomer has stated, he acknowledges that this special, and its soundtrack, are much beloved by boomers and beyond. He is just not among them. Somewhere in the early 2000s, a co-worker gave Mister Boomer a CD of the soundtrack, not knowing how he felt on the subject. After warehousing it for a couple of years, Mister B regifted it.

How about you, boomers? Is it thumbs up or thumbs down on A Charlie Brown Christmas? Did you endure the soundtrack, or like it enough to add it to your holiday music collection?

Boomers Born in 1961 Reach Age 60 This Year

Boomers born in the year 1961 will reach their 60th birthday this year. Time flies when you’re having fun! All boomers know that life is profoundly different today in many ways than it was in 1961. Here are some stats that present a picture of what our lives were like 60 years ago:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated as President of the United States, succeeding President Dwight D. Eisenhower
• There were about 184 million people in the U.S.; the population jumped by 28 million in ten years (thanks to the Baby Boomers!)
• To continue the Baby Boom, 1.5 million couples were married in 1961; the average age of a bride was 19-20 yrs. old, and the groom was 21-22 yrs. old.
The average annual income was $5,700
$1 in 1961 is approximately equal to $8.80 today
• The cost of a dozen eggs was 57¢
Milk was 50¢ for a half gallon
Ground beef was 52¢ lb.
It cost 41¢ lb. to buy a frying chicken
• If you wanted to mail a letter, a stamp cost 4¢
• Born in 1961? You share a birth year with Eddie Murphy (April 3) and George Clooney (May 6)
Alan Shepard became the first American in Space (May 5)

President Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon and bringing him home by the end of the decade (May 25)
The Apartment won the Best Picture Academy Award
The Bullwinkle Show debuted
Tossin’ and Turnin’ by Bobby Lewis was the number 1 hit single of 1961
Disney released 101 Dalmations in theaters
• IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter

The Berlin Wall was constructed, further escalating the Cold War
Sprite was introduced by Coca-Cola to compete with 7-Up
Ray Kroc bought a small chain of hamburger restaurants from the McDonald brothers
President Kennedy sent in the first advisors into Vietnam
Marvel introduced The Fantastic Four comics
Roger Marris broke Babe Ruth’s record and hit 61 home runs for the New York Yankees

If you were born in 1961, of course you learned about these things later in life. Yet more than half the Boomer Generation was born before 1961, and they have vivid memories of the year. Mister Boomer was in elementary school and remembers many things about 1961, including watching the inauguration of President Kennedy. The school he attended was big on observing American history-in-the-making, and wanted the students to follow the Space Program, beginning with Alan Shepard’s launch on May 5. A TV was rolled into the classroom for subsequent launches of Project Mercury and on to Project Gemini.

Mister B and his family were also big fans of Rocky & Bullwinkle, including the 1961 iteration of The Bullwinkle Show. Of course, he was not able to view the show in color. It was the mid-1970s before the family got a hand-me-down color television.

If you’ve been reading Mister Boomer for even a short time, then you know he definitely remembers hearing some top hits of 1961 on his transistor radio. Out of that tiny speaker, he heard Tossin’ and Turnin’, but also, I Fall to Pieces by Patsy Cline; Runaway by Del Shannon; Dedicated to the One I Love by the Shirelles; Take Good Care of My Baby by Bobby Vee; Travelin’ Man by Ricky Nelson, and many, many more.

Yet, in retrospect, what a good portion of boomers recall about 1961 is that there was a palpable change in the wind. Life as we had come to know it was about to be turned upside down. By the time the earliest-born boomers reached the age of 18 in 1964 — which was the final year of the Baby Boom — music, fashion, world events, Civil Rights, the Space Program, the Cold War, even what we ate, was about to change forever.

Were you born in 1961, boomers? If not, what do you recall about that momentous year?